May 10th, 2013. The Lipscomb Bison travel to play the Jacksonville Dolphins in an Atlantic Sun at John Sessions Stadium. The attendance for the game reflects the 35-63 combined record between the two teams, as a a whopping 187 fans came out to cheer on their mighty Dolphins. Those who did, however, were in for a treat. Chris Anderson toed the rubber in the bottom of the first, and it was all down hill for the Bison from there. Anderson went all nine innings, giving up two unearned runs on 6 hits and 2 walks. Jacksonville won 6-2 and improved their record to 17-32. Anderson would pitch his last game of the season a week later, this time going ten innings while striking out nine and, again, giving up two unearned runs. Jacksonville would eventually lose in 11 innings.
September 2nd, 2013. The Cedar Rapids Kernels travel to play the Clinton Lumber Kings in a matchup between the Minnesota Twins and Seattle Mariners Single-A affiliates. With one out in the second inning, Adam Brett Walker steps up to bat. At 6'4", 225 pounds, he looks less of an left fielder, and more of a linebacker. None the less he smacks his 27th and final homerun of the year. A solo homer to straight away center field off of Lumber Kings pitcher Stephen Ewing. Walker later adds another RBI on a double in the fourth, and then a third off a sacrifice fly in the fifth. The Kernels go on to win handily 16-5 and improve to 88-50 in the Midwestern League. 3 days later, the Rapids end their season with a 1st place finish.
September 29th, 2013. The Milwaukee Brewers are visiting the New York Mets. Batting cleanup for the Mets that day is second baseman Daniel Murphy. In the bottom of the 4th inning, Murphy singles on a live drive to center. A pitch later, Murphy steals second base. On the next pitch, Mike Baxter flies out to center field, and the inning is over. That is the last time Murphy reached base in 2013. The Mets would end their season that day with a 3-2 win over the Brewers, finishing with a 74-88 record, 3rd place in the NL East.
The three players highlighted previously all have two things in common: Jacksonville University, and being highly underrated.
Chris Anderson - RHP for the Los Angeles Dodgers
Drafted 18th overall by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2013 FYPD, Chris Anderson was among the first to sign. Because of this, Anderson was able to get a lot of playing time during the 2013 season, something later signees didn't get the luxury of. And boy did Anderson take advantage of that. In 46 innings, Anderson only gave up 10 earned runs posting an ERA of 1.96. Opponents only batted .201 off of him, and struck out 50 times over the course of his twelve starts.
Anderson's repertoire is as impressive as his numbers. Standing at 6'4" 225 pounds, Anderson benefits from a strong lower half and gets great extension towards the plate. A plus fastball that sits in the mid 90's, also provides some late life on its path to the plate. His slider is another plus pitch sitting in the mid 80's. Lots of late breaking dive out of the zone. Anderson also throws a curveball and a changeup. Neither are fully developed but both have the potential to be plus pitches in the future.
Anderson's domination of the Class-A Midwest league was one of the top performances of all the 2013 FYPD picks. Still somehow, Chris Anderson flies under the radar. A seemingly consensus rank of fifth in the Dodgers prospect lists is not bad in a very top heavy group. But still, being snubbed from many top 100 and top 150 lists makes Anderson a prime sleeper for the 2014 season. If you're in leagues drafting now, I would highly consider taking Chris Anderson in the top 15 of the draft, maybe even higher if all your targets are gone. If you have multiple picks, you probably could even sneak him in the back of the first round. In one of my leagues right now, Anderson has yet to be picked well into the 20's. Anderson is being very undervalued right now, I highly recommend you take advantage as he reminds me of Michael Wacha in terms of path to the majors and being widely unappreciated.
Adam Brett Walker - OF for the Minnesota Twins
Son of a replacement era NFL running back, Adam Brett Walker looks more likely to be a linebacker than one of the most athletic players in the minor leagues. Walker, out of Jacksonville University, was drafted in the third round of the 2012 MLB FYPD. After an impressive rookie campaign, Walker came back in 2013 as force to be reckoned with. In 129 games, Walker hit a modest .278. Good but not great. However, Walker hit a Midwest League leading 27 homeruns and added 31 doubles to go along with it. He also ended the season with an astounding .526 slugging percentage. Maybe the most impressive number though is his 10 for 10 steals. Walker is no 14 for 14 in his career stealing bases. He doesn't have Billy Hamilton's 80/80 speed by any stretch of the imagination, but his base running ability and athleticism are on full display in his perfect base stealing numbers so far in his career.
Walker's lower body generated power draws comparisons to Fred McGriff. Walker's pure power. However, Walker is still extremely undervalued in most leagues I've seen. As he is not cracking the Twin's top 10's or even top 15's by most scouting services, Walker has gone as unappreciated as anybody in the minor leagues. While my ethos is not very high, I still would highly recommend you trade for Walker while his value is low. A potential Mark Trumbo career path at first base and outfield is very possible the way I view him. Walker was one of my top sleeper prospects for last year, and this year is by far my number 1 sleeper prospect again. If you are not in a league with me, you should definitely pester his owner for him, or try to pick him up if he isn't owned.
Daniel Murphy - 2B for the New York Mets
Daniel Murphy represents an era of Jacksonville University baseball. The last time Jacksonville came in first, or even really had a solid season, in the Atlantic Sun Conference was in Murphy's last season. That season the Dolphins finished 43-19. Also that season, their star hitter was drafted by the New York Mets in the 13th round of the FYPD. That season, Murphy bounced between rookie ball and Class-A Short Season. Hitting just .217 with an OPS of .612, Murphy's career outlook seemed fit for his late selection. Fast forward to 2013, Murphy became the starting second baseman for the Mets, playing in 161 games. He hit .286 with 13 home runs and 23 stolen bases.
The speedy second baseman is a pure baseball players. He plays hard smart baseball, getting on base, scoring runs (92 in 2013), and playing phenomenal defense. However, Murphy still doesn't get the love from "experts" and rankings that he deserves. Murphy is currently ranked as the 12th best second baseman for 2014 by ESPN. Now I'm not saying Murphy is going to be an All-Star and go 20/20 with a .320 batting average, but I am telling you to consider taking him as your starting second baseman for 2014. In a position that has a less than stellar outlook, if you can't get one of the best three guys, its wise to wait till the mid rounds for Murphy. Murphy is not a sexy pick, and will fall late into draft. Why take Chase Utley in the middle rounds when you can take Murphy towards the later part of the draft, and probably get better results for him. Murphy is one of the most underrated players in the league right now and is a very good player to have in your starting lineup on a regular basis. He won't win you any championships, but the guys you can take in place of a much higher ranked 2B will, and you won't lose the higher 2B production.
This article came about as I was writing up my underrated players for the year. Three of my top 5 sleepers just so happened to be from the same, small college. I really have nothing for the Dodgers, Twins, or Mets, or even Jacksonville. I'm from Seattle in fact. Just a coincidence that some of the most underrated players for their levels all happen to have played at the same school, and all (at least I think) are posed to break out in 2014. Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear who you all think are set to breakout in 2014 for MLB or MiLB.